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290                                                                                                             B. POLEVOI
"We encountered very heavy barrage fire. We barely
got away. There was nothing here yesterday, except some
smoking field kitchens. I flew right over them and raked
them just to give them a shaking-up. But today! Their fire
was terrific! ... Obviously, they're making for the front."
"What about square 'Z'?"
"There is some movement there too, but not so much,
Here, near the wood, there's a big tank column on the
march. About a hundred. Stretched out in echelons for
about five kilometres, moving in broad daylight without
camouflage. Perhaps it's a sham move-----Here, here, and
here, we spotted artillery, right near the front lines. And
ammunition dumps. Camouflaged with wood piles. They
were not there yesterday----Big dumps."
"Is that all?"
"That's all, Comrade Colonel. Shall I write out a re-
"Report? No! No time for a report! Go to Army Head-
quarters at once! Do you know what this means? Hey,
orderly! My car! Send the captain to A. F. Headquarters!"
The colonel had his office in a spacious classroom.
The only furniture in this room with bare log walls was
a table, on which lay the leather cases of field telephones,
a large aviation map-case with a map, and a red pencil.
The colonel, a short, energetic, well-knit man, paced the
room with his hands behind his back. Absorbed in his
thoughts, he passed the airmen who were standing at
attention. Suddenly he halted in front of them and looked
at them inquiringly.
"Senior Lieutenant Alexei Meresyev reporting," said
the dark officer, clicking his heels and saluting.
"Sergeant-Major Alexander Petrov," reported the
youth, clicking the heels of his army boots louder, and
trying to salute more smartly.
"Wing Commander, Colonel Ivanov," barked the chief
in reply. "A dispatch?"
With precise movements Meresyev pulled the dispatch
from his map-case and handed it to the colonel. The latter
quickly scanned the short message, cast a rapid, searching
glance at the new arrivals, and said:
"Good! You've come at the right time. But why have
they sent so few?" Suddenly a look of surprise crossed